The Only Answer to Facebook Beacon is a Deleted Account

Marc Orchant, the other day, announced he was deleting his Facebook profile. For him, it came down to a matter of usefulness. I am considering also deleting my Facebook profile for completely different reasons – Facebook Beacon.

In case you’ve been under a rock for the past few weeks, Beacon is the program that Facebook marketed as a B2C advertising platform. Companies utilizing Beacon would benefit by automatically getting postings in the profile of a user utilizing the company’s website in some way, whether for purchase or otherwise. It was marketed to businesses as completely “opt-in” but as turned out to be exactly opposite.

The privacy concerns that have been demonstrated by the Beacon program is well documented. One guy bought his girlfriend a an engagement ring on Overstock.com and she found out about it by reading his Facebook profile where Overstock had posted this fact on the guy’s profile without him knowing. Personally, I’ve been dismayed to find my Gamefly activity documented as well as a car rental I purchased through Hotwire for later in the month.

Lots of people have proposed methods of “blocking” Beacon, but the fact is that whenever you are logged in, Beacon companies can (and will) post data to Facebook. Even if you opt to never show these details on your profile, Facebook still collects the data and quite possibly shares that demographic data with interested companies. Dare Obasanjo has detailed how broke Beacon really is

Awhile ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Art of War: Facebook’s Strategy for Ultimate Victory“. In that article, I outlined how I thought Facebook had made all the right decisions and as a result would eclipse MySpace and other social networks as the premiere network around.

I am taking that article back. Facebook has not only violated all sense of trust on this matter, but faced with the problems, they’ve only made matters worse. (Sidenote: If you have a few hours, go through these court docs and tell me at the end if you trust Mark Zuckerberg or find him to be completely slippery. Also read this lengthy “pieced together account” of Facebook’s origins).

The real question here is there any real way to opt out? I don’t think there is.

  1. The Privacy tab in Facebook – good for taking companies that use Beacon and that you’ve already engaged with out of a newsfeed – but what about future companies that I do business with?
  2. Companies still sending data to Facebook regardless of if I’ve turned the privacy level way down. What is Facebook actually doing with this data? Telling me that it will be deleted is not a good enough answer for me. Beacon should be opt-in ONLY at the Facebook AND vendor levels.
  3. The firefox extension for blocking sites. This is a good idea in principle but I shouldn’t have to do anything to maintain my own privacy!

To me, the only option here is deleting your Facebook profile – something I am very close to doing.

Facebook Apaga el Faro

Al parecer, Facebook ha decidido modificar su programa Beacon (Faro) ante las protestas por violación a la privacidad de los usuarios que han surgido desde su implementación.

El programa Beacon permite a los participantes enviar notificaciones a Facebook sobre las activdades de los usuarios en sus websites. Por ejemplo, si compramos unas botas en Overstock.com, nuestros amigos de Facebook verán una notificación al respecto en sus páginas -de igual manera que nuestras actividades dentro de Facebook son reportadas en el mini-feed.

En teoría, los negocios participantes deben informar al usuario de esta opción y activarla sólo si el usuario así lo desea; pero en la práctica han habido varios reportes de notificaciones que aparecieron sin el permiso de los usuarios.

Ante las primeras críticas, Facebook modificó el funcionamiento del programa, permitiendo a cada usuario desactivar la notificación. Sin embargo, poco después anunciaron que ahora los usuarios deben aprobar la notificación en su página de Facebook antes de enviarla a sus amigos.

De este modo el sistema pasó de ser Opt-out (el usuario debe salirse si no quiere participar) a Opt-in (el usuario debe inscribirse si quiere participar).

Ciertamente es un adelanto en la política de privacidad del servicio. Pero al igual que cuando Facebook activó los mini-feeds, es preocupante que este nuevo servicio también haya arrancado con mal pie en temas de privacidad.

Inside Access and Common Sense

What I’m about to say is not earth shattering. It’s common sense. However, despite it being common sense, you’d be surprised how many people don’t seem to understand this concept.

In today’s blogging world, as in the journalism world, everyone wants the early story; the scoop; the information that makes you the source and causes everyone to bow at your feet in humility. Trust me. Everyone wants this. Sometimes, if you play your cards right and happen to know the right people or be at the right place at the right time, you might just get access to information that is not common knowledge. Some of this information would make a heck of a blog entry. It would mean lots of traffic and you would surely end up on Techmeme or on Digg.

Stop. Just stop.

Think. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Will blogging this story cause me to lose friends or relationships?
  2. Will blogging the story cause me to break an embargo I agreed to? (Embargos sent without prior agreement are fair game, in my opinion)
  3. Will blogging the story violate an NDA?
  4. Will blogging the story cause other people not to share information with me?

Like I said – common sense. Personally, I’ve been given intimate knowledge of LOTS of things. Google related things. Early previews of alpha products in stealth. Insider knowledge of how organizational health of some companies. Indications of where key players may end up and who’s talking to who. What employee at a tech company is sleeping with the CEO. Yes, I have access. No I am not blogging any of this stuff. Why? Because… it will hurt my chances of getting other access or it may cause me personal relationships with folks.

Common Sense.

Oh, and don’t share private conversations without permission.